Son of Hollywood, biker hero and father of independent cinema, counterculture icon Peter Fonda has died. Raise a glass to a beautiful man, freedom and the rebel road.
The world’s most charming and cine-literate cat died in my arms at 1120 today following a very short illness. Gilbert was the light of my life and accompanied me everywhere, including my travels on the internet to which he was a keen contributor and editor via this diary. I thought of a lot of things but not this. Now he is on the wild road with his brothers and sister. Vaya con Dios, amigo. You are the best of everything and Mondo Movies and I will not be right without you.
The death has taken place of the wonderful Italian actress Valentina Cortese. Trained at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome, she first appeared in elaborate costume dramas and following the war made the move to Hollywood, making a stop in the UK industry for the Dolomites-set The Glass Mountain where her fine beauty and warm screen personality impressed and her role opposite Orson Welles in Black Magic drew the attention of Darryl F. Zanuck. She married actor Richard Basehart following their appearance in The House on Telegraph Hill, a view of the war from the American perspective following her local roles in The Wandering Jew and Rome, Open City which had made her an icon of Italian cinema. As an independent and mostly in the Italian industry thereafter, she would eventuallywork with Antonioni (Le amiche) and Zeffirelli (Brother Sun, Sister Moon and others up to Sparrow) who remained a close friend. She had forged links with Fellini early with one of his first screenplays (Three Quarters of a Page) and later memorably played in Juliet of the Spirits. Nominated for an Academy Award for her fading actress Séverine in François Truffaut’s Day For Night, she continued in both film and television and worked until the Nineties including for Terry Gilliam in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. She had a famously popular theatre reputation particularly for fans of high camp. It took eight different actresses to play her in the film Diva! adapted from her autobiography. “A real character, extremely feminine and very funny,” Truffaut said of Cortese. We cannot improve upon that. Rest in peace.
I remember being very young taking note of Rip Torn when he played Nixon in the great TV series Blind Ambition – he had a face and affect you would call striking. Then I saw him in a funny nun movie with Glenda Jackson. And I suppose later I can recall linking him with the guy in Nic Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth with Paul Newman’s opposite number in Sweet Bird of Youth, although that was where he forged a more meaningful relationship with wife Geraldine Page (he rejoiced in the name on their doorbell – Torn Page). Terry Southern wrote the role of Hanson for him in Easy Rider but after Dennis Hopper pulled a knife on him in a restaurant, Torn was out and the role made Jack Nicholson’s name. But it was in the Nineties, as Artie the irascible showrunner on The Larry Sanders Show that he truly wormed his way into my heart. That and the Men in Black series. It was his time – when he did the voice of Zeus in Disney’s Hercules he had a parallel career as a voice actor. He remade his career decade upon decade, making new fans and never losing his singular presence. RIP, Rip.
The great Italian – or should I say Florentine – director Franco Zeffirelli has died at the grand age of 96. He was a remarkable man, whose authorial stamp was distinguished by two particulars – his sympathy for young people and his flair for dramatising opera and theatre. Endless Love was for some of us kids the first time we saw real teen romance up there on the big screen. Whole new generations were in floods of tears at the remake of The Champ. And there can be few students of Shakespeare who cannot recall whooping with delight at their viewing experiences of The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, which even got a shout-out by Cher in Clueless. That’s how good the man was at making seemingly incomprehensible lines and complex plotting accessible. He made Shakespeare relevant and fun. He did the same with several operas – he took La Traviata and made it a great night out at the movies. And he had vision of a very particular kind: who else would have chosen Tommy Howell to play Young Toscanini? Or Robert Powell to play Jesus of Nazareth, the goodest good guy of them all? He was a devoted son of Florence, making several movies and shorts there, recalling his own complicated upbringing in Tea With Mussolini, a tribute to the marvellous women of the ex-pat community who reared him following the death of his mother when he was 6. He was the result of an extra-marital liaison and named for the ‘little breezes’ in Mozart’s Idomeneo which set him on a path in that very idiom – starting as an assistant to Luchino Visconti in the theatre where he became an outstanding production designer (perhaps partly thanks to his da Vinci lineage) and director. He was one of eight Italians to be nominated as Best Director at the Academy Awards but his outstanding gift to us was his talent for seeing into the heart of things. Grazie e addio, Franco.
The death has taken place of Philomena Lynott, the indefatigable champion of her beloved son, Phil Lynott, the frontman of legendary rock band Thin Lizzy who himself died in 1986. I had the pleasure and the privilege of getting to know her slightly twenty or so years ago, when I was trying to get a film made about Phil. Some very late nights were had at the annual Vibe for Philo gigs in Dublin over the years. Philomena was a beautiful woman, ladylike but fierce, formidable and terribly proud of her son’s talent and achievements. On Saturday evening last at Slane Castle, Metallica paid tribute to Phil with a rendition of Whiskey in the Jar before a crowd of 80,000 delighted fans. The film was never made but the music and the legend live on. Philomena, rest in peace, up there in the wild place with your amazing son.
I’ve been through a lot and I realize the future can’t be controlled. I’m not worried. You can always learn to overcome difficulties. Iconic racer Niki Lauda has died aged 70. For those of us obsessed with motor sports this brings a tear to our eyes. Lauda’s clinical approach to engineering ensured his success given the right team and backing. His miraculous return to Formula 1 just six weeks after surviving the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring in 1976 when he received third-degree burns in a horrific crash is one of the legends of sporting history and it led to that track’s closure. That story is told in documentary The Green Hell; while his contemporary rivalry with James Hunt is dramatised in widescreen movie Rush and their personality clash is one of the reasons the sport became such a global hit in its third decade. He is the only racer to win the World Championship for both Ferrari and McLaren and for that alone he is in the history books. A keen pilot and a successful businessman with his own airline, he could be seen until very recently in the paddock on race weekends, ready to speak to the media pack about Mercedes where he was the non-executive chairman. The toxic fumes that damaged his lungs in 1976 led to a transplant last summer and he has finally succumbed, 43 years after receiving the last rites. His fighting spirit is an example to us all, his courage unparalleled. He was some kind of man. Race to the stars, Niki.
The legendary Doris Day has died at the age of 97. The world’s highest paid woman singer after World War 2, she became a huge Hollywood musical comedy star and developed into a fine dramatic actress. Forever associated with the role of Calamity Jane she emerged in the late 1950s as an even bigger star paired opposite Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Garner in a series of scintillating sex comedies. She later became a TV fixture and saved the lives of so many of our furry friends. Our favourite actress, probably. Rest in peace.